The Relisha Rudd story has cast a light on the heartbreaking state of homeless children in DC. Payne Elementary, Relisha’s school (and my own inboundary school) reportedly serves 55 (out of 260) homeless students. How can we, as a community help? A group of tween civic hackers want to start by finding where homeless students go to school. 

A team of students from Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan EC (DCPS) and BASIS DC (PCS) were invited to share their DC Food Deserts project at the Tech Embassy as part of DC’s inaugural Funk Parade. While preparing for the Tech Embassy, they decided they wanted to address current issues in DC schools. Saddened by Relisha Rudd’s disappearance, they were surprised learn how many students in Relisha’s school are homeless. Wondering whether there were homeless students in all DC schools, they reached out to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) to request data about number of DC students enrolled in schools. 

OSSE shared the data (along with encouraging words e from State Superintendent himself, Jesus Aguirre, saying, “Thanks for focusing on such an important issue.  We can’t wait to see what you build!”), and the students were able to create a map that shows homeless student enrollment by school (for DCPS and PCS).


View Larger Map

How’d They Learn to Map?

The students (calling themselves “Mini Hacker Civics”) are alumni of the DC Teachers and Geography Students in DC (TAGS DC), a program, run by the DC Geographic Alliance (of National Geographic Society) and DC’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO). Students work with experts and mentors to use geographic information systems and local data to bring light to social causes. As part of the program, students presented their findings and recommendations to their communities and local officials.



Technology and Open Data are for Everyone

While the mapping effort is not a solution to homelessness or food deserts, it’s important to recognize that you can’t begin to solve a problem if you don’t know it’s there. Technology enables us to present the data in ways we can better analyze it, and government’s commitment to making data available enables parents, students, (all of us) to advocate, support, participate and innovate around causes that are important to us.


“The Tech Embassy, a pop-up free space for locals to explore and play with tech innovations made by DC residents for DC residents” created a space (hosted by Affinity Lab) for participants to engage with local projects by Code for DC, DC Public Libraries, Open Technology Institute and others. The event demonstrated that data and technology can be available and useful to all of us. Whether and how we choose to participate is up to us.

**Full Disclosure – my son is among the “Mini Hacker Civics